In hopes to gin up excitement for new coaches Usher and Shakira, NBC screened the first two hours of The Voice today for journalists before the fourth season premieres on March 25. As expected, the show was quick to trumpet the talents of his newest additions– they’re multiple Grammy winners and international icons, y’all! – but the real test came when they had to sit down next to veteran show stealers Blake Shelton (who’s as charismatic as ever) and Adam Levine (who’s as picky as ever).
Favorable editing aside, the newbies have (so far) lived up to the build-up. Usher displayed the right amount of confidence (“This is the show I wanted to be associated with because it has credibility,” he said, in a not-so subtle slight to American Idol) but also showed an amusing amount of humility – especially when he’s called out for referring to Nashville as a “state.” (D’oh!) Shakira, meanwhile, is less like a diva and more of a delight – her precious accent making her all the more winsome, especially when she starts to talk trash by calling Levine’s season one win “beginner’s luck.” It can’t be easy to dodge playful barbs from Shelton and Levine – comic moments come easy for those two now – but in all, Usher and Shakira appear to have settled in quite nicely and are pretty slick at selling themselves as coaches. (Kudos to Usher for playing the Justin Bieber card when trying to lure a teen to his team). The new players make good band mates, too: The premiere’s opening musical segment features Levine on drums, Shelton and Usher on guitars and Shakira on harmonica. Sounds odd, I know, but the combination rocked.
Naturally, every new contestant comes with a back story, like a redemption-seeking alcoholic, a gifted Chinese teen who was adopted by U.S. parents, and a soulful man who lost his twins at birth. If only Executive Producer Mark Burnett would rely those sad tales sparingly; the girl who was bullied for having crooked teeth in grade school seemed painfully out-of-place next to a dude whose dying mother may not live to see the finale in May.
But dang, could those two sing!
Just a few other nitpicky lowlights: Starbucks gets a pesky cameo backstage as the pre-performance drink for the families. (We know, we know – product placement makes the world go ‘round!). And the continued use of Christina Milian as the “social media correspondent” feels unnecessary, especially when all the best stuff is happening on stage - right after the chairs turn and before the contestant picks their teams. You’ll want to hear what the new players have to say. B+